Honoring the Important over the Urgent

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Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase, “The tyranny of the urgent over the important.”  This concept has inspired and haunted me over the past couple years.  It’s so true.  Our daily lives are often filled with urgent tasks and activities that demand our attention.  Emails need to be answered, meeting kept, kids’ activities attended, meals prepared, etc.

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How can we make time for what’s important – teaching my kids to do household chores, financial responsibility, personal discipline; spending quality time with my husband; watching the play Sienna wants to put on; playing cars or soccer or superheroes with Teo.

A blogger I’ve followed pretty regularly, Leo Babauta of ZenHabits, wrote: “It’s easy to fill up our lives because there are so many things that sound amazing. We hear about what others are doing and instantly want to add that to our lives. But it’s harder to remember that by adding so many things to our lives, we are subtracting space. And that space is important.”

What I’ve come to know, for me and my family, is that the important stuff only gets attended to when there is space.  When we’re running from one activity to the next, fitting in weekly grocery shopping between parties or play dates, there’s not time to practice reading with Sienna, teach the kids to empty the dishwasher, or play in the backyard together.

I’ve been thinking lately about how this space is critically important to my ability to “stay in the moment” with my loved ones.  When there is transition time between tasks or activities, there’s space for spontaneity and connection.  I’m able to be present because dinner doesn’t have to be planned hours in advance; we can decide what we want and prepare the meal in a relaxed way.  When authentic teachable moments occur, we can take the time to explain lessons to our children, rather than rushing through a disciplinary situation in order to get on to the next event.

So, how to keep the urgent from becoming a tyrant over the important?   The key is what you add to your life and schedule that will become urgent down the road.  Each commitment you make, committee you join, invitation you accept, appointment you make, and activity you (or your kids!) sign-up for reduces the amount of space on your calendar and in your life.  Many of these things are worthwhile, valuable, and noble.  But, perhaps not as valuable as maintaining space in my life.

This post is entitled “Honoring the Important Over the Urgent” because that’s my goal.  The urgent will always remain a tyrant over the important, by simple definition.   I can honor the important values in my life by limiting the instances of urgency that would inevitably pull my attention away.

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